The Scottish National Party has threatened to hold Britain’s armed forces to ransom by potentially blocking the military budget if it ends up propping up a Labour government after the general election.
Stewart Hosie, SNP deputy leader, said yesterday that the party was considering blocking the Ministry of Defence’s annual budget unless the government agrees to scrap Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent. Such a move could put troops’ salaries in jeopardy as well as compromising supplies and defence contracts.
The Times reports that Hosie said the party may “vote against or table amendments to estimates” if any defence budget included renewal of the nuclear deterrent. In parliamentary speak, “estimates” give departments authority to go ahead with their spending plans for the coming year.
Voting down the defence budget would be unprecedented in modern times and could potentially put all of Britain’s military operations in jeopardy. In such a scenario, it is likely that a minority Labour government would have to get Conservative support in order to keep Britain’s armed forces going.
The SNP is continuing to surge in Scotland, with polls predicting it may win nearly every Scottish seat in next month’s UK parliamentary election. A poll on Friday revealed that senior politicians from other parties are at risk of losing their seats to the Nationalists, including Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander.
Party leader Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly offered to put Labour into power after the election if no party wins an overall majority, and although Labour leader Ed Miliband has turned her down so far, he may be left with little choice but to accept.
The Scottish Nationalists have also pledged to force any Labour government to the left, saying they will use their influence to call for higher spending, reversing welfare reforms and call for recognition of a Palestinian state.
Sturgeon said the SNP would be in a “very, very strong and powerful position” if they could prop up a Labour government. Thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which means the next election cannot be for another five years unless two thirds of MPs call for an early poll, it is possible to “change the direction of a government on individual issues without bringing that government down”, she said.
Labour has now suggested for the first time that it may speak to the SNP in order to win power. Angela Eagle, shadow leader of the House of Commons, said the party would speak “to any party that has got representation in the Commons”.